Alison Carr’s latest play is a non-stop, laugh out loud, two-hander that initially makes you wonder why the unseen Alice of the title should be involved in the plot in the first place. But as the cracks in Moira’s (Meg Fraser) ceiling expand, so does the upstair’s neighbour’s relevance to the story.
The scene is Moira’s living room; she is entertaining Peter (Richard Conlon), her long-time lover in anticipation that he will finally have told his wife he is leaving to move in with her. She should really know better, and there is a sense that, underneath her hopes lies the knowledge that she will end up on her own.
And so it proves to be. Peter (smug git, muttered the lady sat next to me) after beating about the bush for as long as he possibly can, announces that his wife is pregnant. And as the cracks in their relationship widen, so do the ones in the ceiling. Enter Alice, or at least her foot, (unseen by the audience) through the hole in the ceiling and into Moira and Peter’s lives.
This does, on the face of it, seem a rather crude and unnecessary metaphor for the crumbling relationship. The action up to this point has been driven by Carr’s excellent, realistically funny script – I’m sure we all have friends who have found themselves caught up in situations like this – and adding the arrival of a morbidly obese character through the ceiling seemed more of a distraction than anything else.
Not so. For as the end of the couple’s lengthy romance comes in sight, it becomes plain that Carr is adding another layer: the issue of how we and, in particular, women, strive to achieve the looks and the body shape that are deemed by others to be desirable. Moira’s admission that she eats more and exercises less so that she has the figure that Peter prefers in a woman is heartbreaking. Throughout the years of their relationship she has looked the way he wanted her to look, and not the way she wanted to be.
It is to the credit of Director Joe Douglas that the play gets all this across without letting up on the humour. You feel for Moira, while recognising that, as the “other woman” it was never going to end well for her, but Richard Conlon plays Peter as a man who is not entirely unworthy of our sympathy. After all, Moira fell for him, she must have seen something worthwhile in him, and this shows through in flashes now and again. But I’m still not about to argue with the comment from my neighbour…